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How Long Does it Take for the Brain to Rewire From Addiction?
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How Long Does it Take for the Brain to Rewire From Addiction?

Written by Seth Fletcher on May 10, 2024
Medical editor Dr. Jonathan Siegel
Last update: May 10, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Recovery timelines vary considerably due to factors like substance type, genetics, and personal history.  Recovery timelines are not linear.  Each person’s curve and graph will look different.
  • Neuroplasticity is most evident early in recovery which means that one can see noticeable changes in behavior when a person stops using.  However, recovery is a lifelong process. This is because as long as we live, we learn more about ourselves and others. 
  • Emotional and social support from others are essential for recovery success.  We can get support in many ways, including friends as well as formal individual or group therapy and AA meetings.

Understanding the Timeframe for Addiction Brain Rewiring

There is considerable variability in how the brain recovers from addiction.  The rewiring of each person’s brain will depend on many variables, including the substance concerned, genetic predispositions, environmental conditions, personality characteristics, and psychosocial supports.  Connection with one’s Higher Power may also be a factor, even if science currently has no way to prove this.  

The metabolic processes in the cells of the brain changes after the cessation of substance use. This will result in considerable improvements in a person’s way of thinking and behaving. Some people may make changes quickly, while for others, the process is more gradual.  Similarly, people have spiritual awakenings at different time frames in their recovery.  The brain is a living, `breathing’ organ.  Cells that fire together wire together.  Addiction causes unhealthy wiring;  recovery causes healthy wiring.  In recovery, people discover that they can think more clearly, make decisions more wisely, and have intuitions that guide them in exercising good judgment in interacting with others.

The key concept of neuroplasticity is that just as the cellular processes of the brain can change in a healthier way, this correlates with people thinking and behaving in healthier ways.

Key Factors That Influence How the Brain Rewires

Type and Duration of Addiction

Different substances have different impact on the the mind's structure and chemistry. For instance, stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine are stimulants while alcohol is a depressant. Regardless of the particular subtance of choice, it is important to note that the longer the period of substance use, the more entrenched the neural pathways related to addiction come to be. Consequently, the longer a person uses a substance, the longer it might take for the healing processes. 

Individual Health and Lifestyle

An individual's general health and way of life can either facilitate or restrict the brain's rewiring process. Good bodily health, supported by a balanced food regimen wealthy in nutrients, everyday bodily interest, and satisfactory sleep, affords the mind the essential assets to heal. Conversely, ongoing health problems, inadequate nutrition, and a sedentary way of life can cause sluggish recovery, making it more difficult for the brain to establish new, sound neuronal connections.

Support Systems and Environment

The impact on a person’s surroundings and social support cannot be overstated. Visually attractive and supportive surroundings that encourage healing can notably increase the mind's rewiring manner. Being surrounded by people who understand the challenges of addiction, who offer aid and encouragement, and who provide a sense of network can enhance emotional health and resilience.These are essential components in overcoming addiction. In addition to that, environments that lessen exposure to stressors and triggers associated with substance use can keep from relapse by means of giving the mind more assertive situations for rewiring.

Also, access to professional help, whether through counseling, therapy, or medical intervention, can provide individuals with the tools and strategies they need to navigate the rewiring process. Professionals can help tailor recovery programs to meet individual needs, addressing both the psychological and physical aspects of addiction.

Steps to Accelerate Addiction Brain Rewiring 

There are various ways to facilitate the brain's rewiring process from addiction. Here are some suggested steps:

Maintain Abstinence

Alcohol and drugs affect the brain.   Abstinence allows for healthier cellular processes to be facilitated.   Ongoing use of drugs and alcohol can perpetuate a maladaptive  cycle of dependency and prevent the brain from getting better. Abstinence permits neurochemical structures to start rebalancing. It's an essential first step that is required for brain health.

Physical Activity

Regular physical exercise is a powerful method in the process of addiction recovery. Exercise not only improves general physical health but also has direct advantages for brain work. It increases the release of neurotrophic factors, inclusive of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which supports the boom of new neuronal connections, enhances cognitive features, and may elevate temper. Activities which include taking walks, running, cycling, or yoga can be beneficial and are on hand for most human beings.

Adopt a Balanced Diet

Nutrition plays an essential role in brain health and the addiction recovery process. A balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants can help the brain heal. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, are essential for maintaining brain function and promoting neuroplasticity. In addition, foods high in fibre, lean protein, and complex carbohydrates can stabilize blood sugar levels, reduce cravings, and improve overall well-being.

Practice Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation are powerful practices for strengthening the regions of the brain that are worried about impulse manipulation, emotional law, and choice-making. Regular exercise can also decrease stress. Techniques such as focused breathing, guided meditation, and mindfulness-based stress reduction may be integrated into everyday exercises to help healing.

Seek Professional Help

Navigating the adventure of addiction recovery frequently calls for more outstanding than simply willpower and private modifications; professional assistance can be invaluable. Counseling and treatment offer secure regions to discover the underlying reasons for dependency, broaden coping strategies, and go through the emotionally demanding situations of restoration. Therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) are mainly effective in addressing perception styles and behaviours related to addiction.

Neuroplasticity Techniques and Exercises for Recovery

In the journey of addiction recovery, leveraging the brain's innate capacity for neuroplasticity is crucial for facilitating lasting change. Techniques that promote neuroplasticity can help individuals in recovery to not only overcome addiction but also build a resilient and healthy brain. Here's an extended exploration of effective strategies and exercises that support this process:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a widely recognized and effective remedy modality in addiction recovery. It works on the idea that negative behaviours and emotions are the result of unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving. CBT enables modifications in the brain's wiring, triggering new brain pathways that are associated with good judgement, healthy behaviours, and coping techniques. Regular classes with an educated therapist can boost this component of mind rewiring, contributing to more significant, sustainable healing.

Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP)

MBRP integrates mindfulness practices with conventional relapse prevention treatment. This approach teaches individuals to be fully aware of their experiences without judgment. By fostering extended attention to triggers, thought patterns, and bodily sensations, MBRP permits individuals to reply to pressure and cravings in a non-reactive manner. Practising mindfulness can facilitate healthy brain rewiring,  strengthening areas related to interest, emotion law, and self-attention, which are critical for overcoming dependency.

Physical Exercise

Physical activity is another powerful method for promoting neuroplasticity. Regular workout improves body and brain health. Exercise increases the release of neurochemicals like endorphins and dopamine, which may reduce cravings and improve mood. Additionally, workout stimulates the production of growth elements which include BDNF, which guides the health and boom of neurons, facilitating the development of recent neural connections. Incorporating aerobic physical games, electricity training, and versatility practices into day-by-day workouts can raise brain plasticity and support recovery.

Learning New Skills

Engaging in new studying studies is an excellent way to enhance brain plasticity. When we commit our mind to learning any subject of interest to us, we are strengthening the brain.  Like a muscle, a brain gets stronger with use.   It might be hard to learn a new language, for example, but if one has an interest in doing so and persists, there is a positive feeling of one’s brain coming alive.  The world seems more colorful and vibrant when the mind is in motion.  

Social Connections

Building and maintaining healthy social connections can also greatly promote neuroplasticity and brain healing. Positive social interactions can stimulate the discharge of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes bonding and decreases strain. Engaging in community activities, guide companies, or team sports activities can provide a feeling of belonging and help that is vital for mental health and recovery. Social getting to know and empathy developed through these interactions can, in addition, improve brain plasticity.

Monitoring One’s Progress in Recovery

There will be good and bad days, but in recovery, the process is one of moving up the ladder of healing, not downward. Here are some guidelines to consider as you monitor your progress:  

Regular Consultations with Healthcare Providers

Healthcare providers, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and addiction specialists, can offer invaluable insights into the recovery process. These professionals can assess changes in behavior, mood, and overall well-being to gauge the effectiveness of current recovery strategies. Through regular check-ups, they can also identify any physical or mental health issues that may arise during recovery, adjusting treatment plans as necessary. These consultations can include a variety of assessments, such as cognitive testing or brain imaging, to directly observe changes in brain function and structure over time. This objective feedback is crucial for understanding the neurobiological shifts that accompany recovery.

Engagement with Support Groups

Support groups provide a platform for sharing experiences, challenges, and achievements with others who are on similar journeys. These groups can offer emotional support, practical advice, and a sense of community that is often vital for sustained recovery. Regular participation in support groups, whether in-person or online, allows individuals to reflect on their progress and learn from the experiences of others. Peer feedback can also serve as a motivating factor, encouraging continued adherence to recovery practices. Moreover, seeing others succeed can reinforce the belief that change is possible, bolstering one's commitment to the rewiring process.

Personal Reflection and Self-Monitoring

Personal reflection is another key aspect of monitoring progress. Keeping a journal or diary, for example, can help individuals track changes in their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors over time. Reflecting on entries can reveal patterns, triggers, and milestones that might not be apparent day-to-day. This practice can also foster a deeper self-awareness, empowering individuals to take an active role in their recovery. Additionally, self-monitoring tools, such as mobile apps designed to track mood and behavior, can provide real-time feedback and help individuals stay connected to their goals.

Utilizing Objective Measures

Objective measures, such as sobriety counters or cognitive function tests, can complement subjective assessments by providing concrete data on progress. For example, a sobriety counter app can celebrate milestones in recovery, serving as a reminder of how far one has come. Similarly, periodic cognitive assessments can track improvements in areas affected by addiction, such as memory, attention, and executive function.

Continuous Learning and Adaptation

Finally, monitoring progress is not just about tracking changes; it's also about continuous learning and adaptation. As individuals progress in their recovery, their needs and challenges may evolve. What works at one stage may not be as effective in another. Therefore, being open to adjusting recovery strategies based on ongoing monitoring is essential. This might involve exploring new therapies, adjusting lifestyle changes, or seeking out additional support systems.


What influences the time it takes to recover the brain from addiction?

Factors encompass the kind of substance used, duration of addiction, genetic factors, environmental impacts, and individual health condition and way of life alternatives.

How does neuroplasticity have an impact on addiction restoration?

Neuroplasticity allows the mind to form new neural connections, which is crucial for healing. Activities that promote neuroplasticity, including studying new skills and bodily exercise, can facilitate this process.

Why is addiction restoration taken into consideration as a nonlinear technique?

Recovery often includes periods of significant enhancement and possible relapses or plateaus, reflecting the mind's complex version of changes without materials.

How can lifestyle modifications be a helpful resource in addiction recovery?

A healthy way of life complements mind function and supports usual healing. Regular exercise, a nutritious weight loss plan, and sufficient sleep are helpful in reinforcing the brain's rewiring process.

What are the signs that the brain is rewiring during recovery?

Signs include progressed cognitive capabilities, better emotional control, decreased cravings, and elevated engagement in new hobbies or pursuits.

Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.


Dr. Jonathan Siegel earned his doctoral degree in counselling psychology from the University of Toronto in 1986. He is a registered psychologist in private practice and has 30 years of experience conducting both assessments and counselling with a diverse group of individuals presenting with a broad range of psychological adjustment difficulties, such as depression, anxiety, and addictions.

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